Built-up area expanding at the cost of farmland

Aerial photo of Biesbosch National Park.
© Hollandse Hoogte / Frans Lemmens luchtfotografie
The area of land in use for housing, industry and infrastructure increased by 200 square kilometres from 2013 to 2020. The area of land in use for agriculture shrank by 244 square kilometres. The total area of nature areas and water increased by 44 square kilometres, in spite of a decrease in the area of wooded areas (by 53 square kilometres). These are just some of the results of ecosystem accounts data compiled by Wageningen University and CBS.

Dutch land area by types of ecosystem, 2020Pie chart showing the proportions of ecosystem types for the land area of the Netherlands.AgricultureGrasslandArableBuilt-upBuilt-up, infrastructurePublic green spaceOtherNatureForest/treesOpen natureWetlandsWater and coastWaterDunes, beachDutch land area by types of ecosystem, 2020

Land characteristics

In terms of ecological characteristics, land in the Netherlands can be divided into various ecosystem types. Nearly half (49 percent) of the surface area was in use for agriculture in 2020, mainly for meadowland and arable fields. Built-up areas account for nearly 24 percent of the surface area. These include terrain that is largely built on or paved – areas with buildings, industrial estates, roads and other infrastructure – but also public green space such as parks. Sixteen percent of the land area falls in the category nature and semi-nature. These include protected heathland and woodland in the Natura2000 areas, as well as hedgerows, which are often managed under nature conservation schemes, and production forests and wooded areas with no conservation status. Lastly, freshwater and saltwater and the coastal strip account for 11 percent of the total surface area.

Effects of changes in land use

Changes in land use all affect well-being, for example because they impact ecosystems that remove CO2 or provide opportunities for recreation. The size of these effects has not yet been quantified but from next year this will be incorporated in CBS well-being studies.

Farmland reduction differs between provinces

The appearance of the Dutch landscape has changed between 2013 and 2020: 244 square kilometres of agricultural land and 53 square kilometres of wooded areas disappeared, while the area of nature and water increased by 44 square kilometres. The differences in conversion of farmland across the country are large. The area of agriculture decreased by most in Noord-Brabant (–58 square kilometres) and Gelderland (–38 square kilometres). In all provinces, except Zeeland, the loss of agricultural land was mainly caused by the increase in built-up areas, and to a lesser extent in nature areas.

Conversion from agricultural to other ecosystem types, 2013 - 2020Map of the Netherlands showing the change in land use from agriculture to built-up, nature and water respectively for each province between 2013 and 2020.-2 km2+7 km2-15 km2-37 km2-5 km2-38 km2-16 km2-7 km2-19 km2-15 km2-58 km2-39 km2Change from agriculture to:Built-upNatureWaterConversion from agricultural to other ecosystem types, gross and net,2013 - 2020

Increasing pressure on living environment

Space will be in increasing demand in the coming years, to build one million homes, to install wind turbines and solar panels, but also for the expansion of Natuurnetwerk Nederland and the realisation of the forest strategy.
The expansion of Natuurnetwerk Nederland (approximately another 350 square kilometres), and the planting of trees under the forest strategy (of which 190 square kilometres outside the Natuurnetwerk) are to be realised before 2027 and 2030 respectively. These figures demonstrate that the living environment will change rapidly.